Four NFL officials gathered at the Steelers' training camp facility in Latrobe in early August to explain the rule changes in the league this season to the area media.
When asked about the elimination of the force-out rule, back judge Tony Steratore gave a simple response.
"It actually makes our job easier,'' he said.
What he didn't say was that it will also make the defenders' job easier, too.
The force-out rule has long been a part of the league, allowing a receiver to not necessarily get both of his feet inbounds if the official determined he would have come down inbounds if not "forced out'' by a defender. The situations were many times controversial and non-reviewable, so the NFL decided to eliminate the human element completely.
This year, a receiver has to get both feet inbounds, regardless of whether he's hit in the air or not. Receivers, however, are not allowed to be "carried'' out of bounds while in the air.
"The elimination of the force-out is probably the most significant change this year,'' Steratore said.
Other changes include:
n Allowing the team that wins the coin toss to take the ball or defer to the second half
n Giving designated defensive players a radio in their helmets
n Eliminating 5-yard incidental face masks
n Using instant replay for field goals, extra points and illegal forward handoffs
n Allowing defensive teams to recover muffed snaps
Most of the rule changes won't have a big effect on the games when they begin tonight, but the force-out is definitely significant.
Many of the recent rule changes have been designed to help the offenses, but the elimination of the force-out will definitely help the defense. A wide receiver could make a spectacular catch in the back of the end zone or along the sideline, only to have a beaten defender get there late and push him out of bounds.
It also makes one wonder if defensive backs won't even try to challenge balls in the air near the sideline or the back of the end zone. Receivers may be putting themselves in dangerous positions in those situations.
Some rules are always going to be controversial, but when a rule is changed to negatively affect a great effort, in this instance a receiver trying to make a catch, it just doesn't seem right.
Steelers' record: 9-7.
Division winners: Patriots, Jaguars, Steelers, Chargers, Eagles, Saints, Vikings, Cardinals.
Super Bowl: Saints over Chargers.
NFL Week No. 1
Game of the week: Cowboys at Browns, 4:15 p.m. Sunday (FOX).
Upset special: Dolphins (+2 1/2) at home vs. the Jets.
Fantasy tip: Oakland's Justin Fargas is eventually going to be replaced by Darren McFadden. In the meantime, he could have a big week against Denver on Monday night at home.
Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or firstname.lastname@example.org.